Dance Kinesiology and the Art of Dance

Kinesiology is the study of human movement. It is the study of how the human body is put together and its mechanics. It is the study of the bones and muscles and the physics of motion. (There is also something else called Applied Kinesiology…but that is a crunchy-granola, “dysfunctional energy pathways” approach that I do not believe in.) Kinesiology encompasses biomechanics which is “the field of study which makes use of the laws of physics and engineering concepts to describe motion of body segments, and the forces [both internal and external] which act upon them during activity.”AIMBE

Dance Kinesiology is the same study of factual human movement within the context of the complex art of dance movement.

My story: My first exposure to the fact that science might have a place in dance, was when Patrice Whiteside came to substitute for my ballet teacher Tricia Kaye (the founder of KD Dids) when I was about 15. In a few short days, I got more practical advice about how to use my body than I had in my entire life. Patrice was responsible for me becoming one of those students who asked why and how…drove some of my teachers nuts. But at 15 it occurred to me that if it can be DONE, there is an explanation for HOW. I wanted to know HOW and was usually very frustrated by the lack of information (and patience!) that my teachers could offer.

My first formal kinesiology class – sports kinesiology – was as an undergraduate dancer at The University of California at Riverside. Although I am sure that Sally Sevey Fitt was well on her way to becoming THE dance kinesiology guru (there is NO info on her specifically that I can find), the field of dance kinesiology had not been widely established when I went to college. Our department chair, though, felt there was value in her dancers learning about the science of movement, and we girly dancers had to join the shocked jocks in a physical education lecture course. My fellow students hated every minute of learning about swinging a bat, throwing a ball, running, moving in the various planes, but I was enthralled. I had the ability to translate this info into dance, and I was hooked. Here were the reasons, the whys and wherefores of human movement no matter the movement style or form. This was not about any specific movement technique, this was biomechanics. My dancing and my teaching changed immediately as I regarded movement as not a style but as manipulation of my bones by my muscles through space, with and against gravity. Sounds dry, I know….but I was in heaven! I finally had a framework for everything I was doing and teaching.

My kinesiology studies went on through the years as I studied everything I could get my hands on. I took a few more sports kinesiology courses because there were no dance kinesiology course being taught anywhere that I could find except at the University of Utah with Ms. Fitt. I was on my own. But, I did encounter so many other experts in other body therapies and techniques, all of whom became integral parts of my developing framework for understanding human movement: Alexander Technique, Feldenkreis, Neuro-muscular Re-alignment, Labanalysis, Labanotation, Dance Therapy, Body Mapping, Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation, Physical Therapy, etc. It all fit in. I had started collecting books on sports kinesiology, anatomy, biomechanics, stretching, injury prevention and rehabilitation, movement analysis, etc. And then I discovered Sally Sevey Fitt’s book, Dance Kinesiology. There it all was! In black and white! Everything I had discovered on my own was true!! It became my bible.

So, when I got my first university position when I was 25, I wanted to teach dance kinesiology. It complemented my studio dance courses. My students soared, and I was the happiest teacher on the planet.

What value does the study of dance kinesiology hold? It teaches dancers about their bodies: how they are constructed, how they are meant to move, how they are NOT meant to move, how movement is produced and/or restricted, how to use gravity. Is it a complex field of study? Yes and no. There are so many “things” to be learned, yes, but the basic concepts, once mastered, give a dancer a framework for evaluating and analyzing any and all movement challenges.

The body is the dancer’s instrument…how can it truly be used to its full potential if it is not understood? Over the years, I have encountered arguments that all resemble this one: one does not need to know how a car is constructed to drive it. Give me a break…does your driving teacher tell you that you can drive really fast by pushing on the brake? This is illogical, right? Well, the body functions in an extremely logical manner, and dance teachers should know the logic! Instead, dancers are routinely told to do things that essentially work against actual body mechanics, against the logic of body construction. A few of my favorites are: “Squeeze your butt muscles to turn out your legs!”, “Lift your arms using your (middle) back muscles!”, “Tuck your pelvis!”, “Lift your leg from underneath!”, and in Irish dance, “Knees forward, toes out!” Even if the students do not know dance kinesiology, it should be a GIVEN that a dance teacher does. Then, a dance student would be getting nothing but correct information.

Sometime in my graduate studies I encountered the discussion about the art of dance vs. the science of dance. I remember not understanding why there was a discussion at all. Understanding my body meant that I could dance my best which meant that the “art” of the dance was clearly illustrated. If a body is performing at its peak, would not the art be best served?

Rather than going off on my own rant about how science and art are not at odds, here is an excerpt from a wonderful article I found once:

‘“Science helps us to understand, to make sense, of the world in which we live. It helps us to understand ourselves. So does art,” Andrade says. “Scientists ask questions, design experiments, make observations, and try to develop answers or understanding of the questions asked. So do artists.”

It’s hard to break a stereotype, however. Scientists and artists, many believe, have as much in common as Dilbert and Salvador Dali.

Engineers, represented in the popular comic strip, are thought of as “left-brained,” meaning they are unemotional, mathematical, exact, and logical. Artists, such as the Spanish painter, have the reputation as being “right-brained,” or creative, spontaneous – even impractical.

“Not quite,” says Andrade, who is driven to debunk the myth. “Scientists and engineers are also very creative – generally the more creative, the more mathematical, logical, and highly experimental.”

Artists often begin a work with a creative vision, undoubtedly stemming from the right hemisphere of the brain, which governs creativity. But the act itself of drawing, painting or composing is a step-by-step process requiring memorizing patterns of logical thought processed by the left hemisphere, the side of physics. Conversely, just as artistry is augmented by input from the left-brain hemisphere sequence, scientific thought depends upon right-sided inspiration, says author Leonard Shlain.’

The rest of the article is well worth the read: What Leonardo Knew

There is another section that reads: McDermott’s own math professors chided him for taking art classes. And his sculpting instructors questioned his decision to spend less time honing his art to crack math texts.”

This was my experience in high school and college. My favorite encounter with a rare teacher in graduate school who got a kick out of my diverse studies went like this:

(This was a math class I took for fun with pre-med students, and the teacher said this loudly for the benefit of the class.) “So, Ann…I see you got ANOTHER A on this test…” Here I began blushing furiously and painfully.

“What’s your major again?”

“Dance,” I whispered, wanting to disappear.

“What? Say it louder!”


“Yep, that’s what I thought!” she said as she looked around the class and began a mini-lecture on how many students were failing this required class.

I was mortified…but got over it as she smiled and winked at me. I realized she was not making fun of me, and we had a great conversation after class. She was fascinated by my interests.

Over the years, I began to understand how my right and left brains complemented and supported each other. Fascinating stuff. I took the collaboration of the parts of my brain for granted. It has helped me understand my children and their learning styles.

And only solidified my standing on the art vs science argument…there isn’t one.

Click for more kinesiology info: Dance Kinesiology

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. K8
    Sep 02, 2007 @ 14:13:00

    I think I shall never rue the day I subscribed to your feed. I am always fascinated by the things you have to say. 😀

  2. Anonymous
    Sep 02, 2007 @ 15:48:00

    I found a class in the Alexander Technique at college made a huge difference in my dancing. A good source of info is at their website:

  3. Ann
    Sep 02, 2007 @ 21:53:00

    Thank you, K8. Very kind of you!

  4. L
    Sep 05, 2007 @ 05:29:00

    I continue to be fascinated as I read each of your kinesiology posts. I’ve studied dance (highland and Irish) for over 20 years – a very large portion of my life, and find these posts so interesting, and am beginning to realise that I know less and less about the mechanics of the body as I read each of your posts and associated links. I think I’d better subscribe to your blog!

  5. Peggy
    Sep 06, 2007 @ 00:29:00

    This stuff is so fascinating. The thing I’ve been wondering since first reading this several days ago was not how the sides of the brain are concerned, but why do some people ask questions? why do others just accept what’s put in front of them? Can people be taught how to learn?

    I don’t expect anyone to answer that. It seems to take a special kind of person to take knowledge and make it their own. Thank you Ann, for being one of those people and for sharing it with us.

  6. Susan
    Sep 07, 2007 @ 20:03:00

    I never was brave enough to take the art classes. I stuck with math and science. I NEVER even considered anything “home ec-y” like sewing or dress design.

    Oh well, it is interesting that up until the big yellow, all my jobs depended upon stuff I basically taught myself – computers, sewing, typing, pattern making, drawing etc.

    The odd thing was that I loved school until college. Snorefest.

    I forget what my point is… Oh yeah, Congrats on being man enough to persue both sides. I copped out.

  7. Trackback: Dance Kinesiology posts « Taoknitter

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